The role of the Army Film Unit was to provide a detailed film record of the British Army in action. Its members were not newsreel cameramen, though their footage was often used in newsreels, but serving soldiers. Cameramen were usually at the rank of Sergeant.

No 2 Army Film and Photo Section in Tunisia was commanded by Major Hugh Stewart, who in postwar years became a prominent film producer, overseeing amongst many other projects, all of Norman Wisdom's movie comedies of the 1950s. Among his junior officers was a young lieutenant called Alan Whicker, of later TV documentary fame, and, at the frontline in the Greenhill Sector of the front in 1942-43 were the two sergeant cameramen, H M Wilson MM and R P G Meyer.

'It was a bit like a heavy biscuit tin.'

The camera they used at this time, the box-like DeVry, had a wind-up clockwork mechanism and a magazine with a capacity of only 300 feet of film. The context, length (in feet) and location of each shot would be written onto a standard 'dope sheet' form immediately after filming.

Born in 1908, Ricky Meyer became a theatrical agent after the war. And, during his Army service, he also had a brief brush with fictional war movies, taking some the stills for the 1944 David Niven film The Way Ahead during its location filming at Bizerta. He recalled his AFPS experiences in Tunisia in a 1978 interview with the Imperial War Museum:

'There was a toss up whether we should be made Majors or Sergeants and after a look at us they wisely decided we should be Sergeants! It was quite a high enough rank to go anywhere. Everyone was delighted to be photographed, we never had any bother at all. We more or less did what we liked.

'You'd be given a map reference, which company or battalion or division to report to. I ended up in a place called Sedjenane, which had a well-known map reference called Greenhill and I was in Sedjenane for quite some time.

'In Sedjenane we had Commandos there so we go to the RSM of the Commandos, or one of the officers and see what they were up to, what was happening. One wasn't really very much with the infantry because you couldn't get the pictures of infantry working, it would be mostly artillery you'd get shots of and tanks. The further up front you got, the less photographs you could take.'

The DeVry camera though sturdy and reliable, had its limitations.

'You must keep 10 feet in hand in case something important happened. It was the mechanics of the thing which made it awkward. While you were loading up it was probably bright sunlight you had to put a camera in this black bag and do it by feel. Something exciting or interesting may have been happening and you'd miss it with this constant reloading.

'It doesn't look like a battle does it? You'd get the odd tank and perhaps a shell burst which means nothing when there is no sound with it, it doesn't mean a thing. And you can't get much with the cameras we had. We had no wide-angle lens so it doesn't show much. If you're a long way away you saw nothing. You didn't get the impression of a battle in the slightest way.

'The nearest we got to some action pictures was with the 25-pounders, they were far away but you could always usually get good pictures of them. But it was rather boring always to only have pictures of 25-pounders! What all this photography was lacking was sound.

'I've photographed Bren gunners in odd engagements but it must have looked like an exercise. Because you couldn't see what they were firing at. You just saw these chaps huddled on the ground firing a Bren gun. It might have been in Aldershot! Without a dope sheet the stuff wasn't worth at having.

'Wilson was another mad man I was with in North Africa. When we were being surrounded or being attacked by Jerries at Sedjenane, he didn't want to leave at all. He'd have still been there if he'd had his own way!'

Sadly the 1978 interviewer doesn’t pursue this point, but it is a matter of record that Sgt H M Wilson received a periodic Military Medal for his work in Tunisia. He was later commissioned and was one of the Army cameramen who covered the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp in 1945. He can actually be seen in one memorable and much-shown sequence, shaking hands with a grateful survivor who is sitting on the ground.


No 2 Army Film and Photo Section (PR)
An Introduction

SGT H M WILSON AT SEDJENANE

HOME